baroque returns, now just Ryou and Kei, and with an entirely new concept. It is the album many people are talking about in Japan and around the world; an entirely new baroque, and with a new coupling tour with The Novembers, baroque is breaking out in new ways. How is the album that people can’t stop talking about?
Now over a decade ago, baroque, with quite a different line-up, released their seminal LP, sug life. sug life was one of the first, and even to this day, best integrations of elements of DJ-ing, Hip-hop, and even punk, into a visual-kei style. The band pioneered a sound that many others would follow, including Ryou and Kei’s subsequent band, kannivalism (itself a re-formation; kannivalism had been their band before baroque).

The current line-up of baroque is one that comes out of their reformation a few years ago, after the indefinite hiatus of the second iteration of kannivalism. Initially, many prior fans of baroque found the new one somewhat of an oddity: the songs were far more predictable, and simply didn’t synthesize the diverse genres into a unique sound that the band had become known for. After losing their rhythm guitarist since their last album, Ryou and Kei are now back as a duo, with PLANETARY SECRET.

I won’t mince words – it is kind of bizarre. A complete departure from previous work, it truly is a new style for the band. To me, a comparison can be drawn to (the now on indefinite hiatus) 12012 – baroque, or more precisely the duo of Ryou and Kei, are one of the most dynamic groups in visual-kei. Looking at the career of these two (they have been together in groups since Clarity in 1998, and even before that as roadies for the legendary Kagerou), they have an impressive selection of releases and also a great variance in sound. If you were to play sug life back to back with PLANETARY SECRET, some people might not even guess it was the same band, much like if you listen to 12012’s Mar Maroon and then their self-titled LP.

The record’s title, PLANETARY SECRET, is somewhat apt, I believe, given how the album’s sound invokes a sort of ethereal spacy-ness. The album is very airy, even when Kei’s guitars reach their most soaring, owing to a number of elements. There is a heavy presence of synthesized sounds and programming on this album in addition to something listeners will love or hate – autotune. All of Ryou’s vocals for the entire album are autotuned. For some, this may ruin the album – in all honesty, on my first playthrough, it did ruin it for me. Ryou’s voice is quite spectacular, and he really does not need the autotune, and while certainly, it adds to the spacy atmosphere, it also detracts. Having his voice remain natural could have anchored the sound a bit as having a spectrum of organic and synthesized sounds, but the autotune almost feels like overkill.

This being said, the autotune mixed with reverb on the vocals truly does create a special effect. One has to wonder however if the gimmick just simply wears off. Certainly, I can’t imagine the band doing a second album like this, but with the assumption of the autotune being limited to one LP, it isn’t terrible I suppose. In addition to Ryou’s vocals, Kei’s guitar is privy to being changed through a number of effects and added reverb throughout, which only adds to the album. Kei has never been fully appreciated for his subtle sonic manipulation of guitar riffs, I believe, and this album demonstrates just how great of a player he is. Much like Nightmare’s Sakito, he is able to take riffs and make them sound almost dirty, without the harshness that many really on. Songs such as “SWALLOW THE NIGHT” showcase his masterful playing, with him moving from moments of manipulating feedback to create waves of sound, to playing with noted precision and liminal distortion during his solo. Kei truly shines on this album as the only guitarist.

The songs, in general, are fascinating, as this album is some of the best composing baroque has done. The songs are fun to listen to, and many, quite relaxing contrasts between soft moments and more rousing mid-parts. Even within single songs, the band tries a number of different sounds out, resulting in a complex and varied record. Additionally, while this is not on the level of god and the death stars’ minimalism, Ryou and Kei beautifully toy with minimal sound on a number of songs, such as the introduction to “SILENT PICTURE”. Kei is even playing very few notes, and just skillfully manipulating them. Moments like this are throughout the album, with Kei’s playing carrying the album.

In the end, this album is, I believe, on the level of the band’s prior masterpiece, sug life. A great level of complexity is achieved herein, with contrasts between minimalism, superb guitar and vocal manipulation, and an understanding of when to use synthesized and programmed sounds. While the autotune may make this album hit or miss for people, baroque have managed to produce a stellar work, quite unconventional for themselves and visual-kei.

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